LONDON (Reuters) - John Tavener, one of Britain's most celebrated composers whose music was played at the funeral of Princess Diana, died at his home in southwest England on Tuesday at the age of 69, his publisher said.
He was one of the few modern composers to gain a following among non-classical audiences, with many people attracted to his mysticism and spirituality.
Fellow composer John Rutter told the BBC that Tavener "was touched by genius at every point.
"He could bring an audience to a deep silence which is a very rare gift," Rutter said. "He believed that music was for everybody and was a prayer."
Tavener studied at the Royal Academy of Music and spent five decades composing. He first came to attention in 1968 for his cantata "The Whale", which was later recorded on the Beatles' Apple label.
He was best known for the classical chart-topper "The Protecting Veil" and for his "Song for Athene" that was played at Diana's funeral in 1997. His 2003 work "The Veil of the Temple" lasts seven hours.
Much of his work was inspired by his spirituality after joining the Russian Orthodox Church.
A striking, gaunt man who stood 6-foot-six-inches with shoulder-length hair, Tavener expressed regret in later life for having been photographed wearing monk's robes with religious icons and candles in the background.
Plagued by poor health for much of his life, Tavener suffered a stroke in his mid-30s and in 1990 was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause heart defects. He had a major heart attack in 2007.
James Rushton, managing director of Tavener's publisher Chester Music, described him as a man of strong beliefs and huge personal warmth, loyalty and humour.
"John Tavener was one of the unique and most inspired voices in music of the last fifty years," Rushton said in a statement.
"His large body of work - dramatic, immediate, haunting, remaining long in the memory of all who have heard it, and always identifiably his - is one of the most significant contributions to classical music in our times."
Tavener was knighted in 2000 for services to music.
He is survived by his wife and three children.
(Reporting By Shadi Bushra and Michael Roddy; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Janet Lawrence)